July 26th, 2004

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
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Feels Like the First Time
By Mike Saunders, Alabama

The line and leader fell gracefully to the water, laid out in a semi smooth line towards the overgrown bank. In most places the true bank could not be seen for the flora that adorned it so thickly for stretches of a hundred yards or so at a time. Clinch-knotted onto the tippet was a Betts chartreuse popper sized for Bluegill. Falling a foot or so in front of the branches, it lay there in stillness as I held my rod still. From somewhere beneath the bush came a willing participant and the sound of a small mouth opening the water around the bug hit my ears almost as fast as I saw the offering disappear.

I did as I had been instructed by all the articles I had read online in the past few weeks, and resisted the urge to haul back on the rod as if I were setting the hook on a bass with a spinning rig. I lifted the 9' 5WT virgin rod at a moderate rate of speed and began the tussle with the first fish I had ever caught with a fly rod. A cut to the left, followed quickly by another back towards the bushes, then yet another back to the left as I reeled in carefully, using the length of the rod to turn him. No hauling in with the heft of a spinning rig. No crane lift of a bamboo "pole" here. This was an all-out scrap between a 2 pound tippet and an 8" bluegill who was doing his best to break the link between him and the larger line above that sung through the water.

Too quickly, the battle was over and the colorful beauty was in my left hand as I removed the hook from his lower jaw. My best fishing buddy my wife told me to pose and snapped a quick picture of the fish and I. One more look at the little fighter and I placed him in the live well of the jonboat, and stripped out some line for another cast.

The day had progressed nicely. A typical springtime deep south Saturday in Alabama, it was clear skied with a hint of a cool front passing through. We had participated in the neighborhood yard sale that morning and had gotten onto the water at about 3 PM. The water on the reservoir had been dropped a foot or so overnight and mixed with the cool front passing through, the bass fishermen were pretty much skunked. They would blaze by, scorching the water in pursuit of a "honeyhole" somewhere that they had not tried yet. Vicki and I had put the jonboat in and not traveled more than a few hundred yards from the landing and were peacefully working the drop off looking for some pre-spawn crappie. They were there, but not cooperating, so I had put down my ultra light spinning rig and seized the moment to give my new outfit it's first try at a fish.

I didn't say a word to her, but I was kind of glad that the crappie were not obliging us. That was the perfect excuse to change over to fly fishing. I had been practicing my casting in the backyard for a few weeks and was anxious to try my hand at a bluegill on a popper. Vicki turned and cast her jig towards the bank and the foliage and picked up a small spotted bass as I readied everything for the first cast. I felt fairly confident of my casting abilities. I knew I might not be ready to place a nymph in front of a finicky stream trout yet, but lobbing the popper up to the bushes might be good enough for my first time.

After that first gill, I caught a 10" one and then another one at about 7". Some bass fishermen were working the bank behind us and had kicked their trolling motor into high gear to come around us. As they passed by they asked how we were doing, and I gladly told them that we had caught 4 fish. They had been out all morning and had caught one. We had only been there on that bank for a short while. I wish I could say that we "loaded the boat," but the afternoon was cut short by a home fire down the slough from us. Traffic from all over the lake was coming to watch and some to help keep the fire from spreading to other homes on either side. The fishing in that area died down. Having "passed the test," and a feeling as if I had conquered a small part of the world, we loaded the trusty old boat back on the trailer and released the "keepers" from the live well.

I can honestly say that catching that first bluegill on my new rod was as good as the first fish I ever caught as a boy on a cane pole and bobber. It truly felt like the first time. Fifty-plus years transformed back in time to a four year old as his mom helped him hold the pole and bring in his first fish. I imagine that the grin on my face today was no less bright, just somewhat more wrinkled. It felt like the first time.

I had discovered fly fishing. It felt like the first time. ~ Mike Saunders

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